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Experts see hope in gloomy climate report

© Flavio Forner

Humanity is set to blow past 1.5°C (2.7°F) of planetary warming by the early 2030s, according to a new report released today. 

The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warns of a future in which adapting to climate change will become increasingly difficult as the risk of deadly heat waves and flooding increases substantially with each additional half-degree of warming. 

The report is spawning legions of gloomy news headlines, but not all climate experts shared in the gloom — some found reason, improbably, for optimism. 

“There’s ample cause for concern,” said Bronson Griscom, a climate scientist at Conservation International. “But I don’t share the view that we as a species are joy-riding down the highway to hell.”

One reason for hope: The surge in renewable energy capacity in recent years.

“The IPCC found that solar panels are about nine times cheaper than in 2010; the same goes for the batteries required to store renewable energy,” Griscom said. “Prices are diving, and demand is rising faster than most models anticipated.” 

“If we’re on the highway to hell, this is a critical exit ramp.” 

Behind the headlines

The IPCC’s new report is a synthesis of three others released to much fanfare (and yes, gloom) over the past two years. So, Monday’s news reports did not exactly take climate observers by surprise.

“In many ways [the report] underscores what we know, including what some communities, island states, Indigenous peoples, youth activists and scientists have been saying for years,” said Will Turner, a scientist at Conservation International. 

Yet he emphasized that the news was not to be taken lightly.

“The findings presented in this report are still of jaw-dropping significance,” Turner said. “We’re seeing a wider range of impacts, and more severe impacts, that are happening earlier than many of our climate models expected — something that extreme weather events around the world are providing added confirmation of weekly.” 

Nature, now

Many pointed to the role of nature as a major reason for hope.

“The latest report re-affirms that three of the top five actions with the highest potential for curbing climate change involve nature,” Griscom said — stopping deforestation; restoring natural ecosystems; and improving agricultural management, according to the IPCC.  

Griscom pointed out that nature is already saving humanity from climate change, where humans have let it. 

“As carbon pollution has accelerated, so has nature’s ability to capture it — research shows that forests are absorbing carbon faster in response to more carbon in the air,” he said. 

The speed at which nature can be deployed as a climate solution is one of its greatest strengths, he continued. “Protecting and restoring nature is immediately scalable, relatively inexpensive, and doesn’t need technical leaps of faith.” 

The biggest hurdle for this might be paying for it — only 3 percent of climate finance is dedicated to nature. 

Another hurdle: Getting financing to the right place. For many climate experts, that place is in the hands of local communities.

“We need to get funding flowing rapidly and directly into local communities — they are already seeing and experiencing the effects, and know they have to adapt,” said Emily Nyrop, a climate expert at Conservation International. “The faster we can position them to build resilience for themselves and nature, the better.”

Turner agreed: “The most important actions are not in 2050 or 2030, but in 2023.”

Further reading: 

Bruno Vander Velde is the managing director of content at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work.